Review: Welcome to ‘The Grand Paradise’ by Third Rail Projects

Asya Danilova

  • OnStage New York Critic

BROOKLYN NY - The Grand Paradise is a beautiful fantasy set on a beach resort in the late 70s and you are invited to become a part of it. Your journey begins with a boarding pass handed to you as you enter trough a door in a blind wall somewhere in Bushwick. But once the “plane” of the show takes off, you forget about the outside world. The “safety” video they make you watch before “landing” is strangely out of tune with the rest of the Paradise experience with it’s forced jokes and deliberately awkward inappropriateness. The foreignness of this video introduction in the context of the entire evening experience makes me wonder if it was done deliberately in order to mock traditional viewing, whether it is theater, television or film.            

You definitely won’t be a slave to your fixed point of view in The Grand Paradise. Produced by Third Rail Projects, this interactive show continues the company’s experiments with site-specific immersive dance theater. The members of the audience are not merely the spectators; they are offered the position of an active viewer (or should I say voyeur), a witness, sometimes even a participant in the action. 

Once you step into The Grand Paradise, you find yourself surrounded by blooming fake greenery and bamboo sheds. Mermaid-like dancers swim in an aquarium tank. Production design by Zach Morris, Tom Pearson and Jennine Willett has the look of a faded traveling brochure and immediately sets the mood of a sentimental memory. For some time you are allowed to wander by yourself, surrounded by fellow travelers: flower leis around necks, tropical cocktails in hand, and the sparkle of adventure in eyes. 

The family of tourists with matching luggage enters and the show begins. The magical Elisabeth Carena sings seductively, and one of the “tourist” girls, captivated by the siren’s call, joins her on the gallery above our heads. As the two of them continue their dance around each other, they exchange clothes and the tourist girl becomes a resort disco queen. In the same way, we are offered to shed a layer of our stereotypical theatrical perception and surrender to the guidance of the characters inhabiting the Paradise.

The show has a structure of mystery with the number of rituals and scenes leading you through the experience of transformation. However the number of these scenes, their order, and your position in space may vary. Therefore there is no point for me describing the journey I went through because yours will be different. The Grand Paradise has a narrative path, yet there is room for chance in your travel. You never know when you will be pulled aside, with whom you will end up, or where. The inhabitants of the Paradise share their stories through existential monologues and contemporary dance leading you through the maze of the rooms. You drink with them, you laugh and cry with them. 

The coming of age, romance of youth, mid-life crisis, aging and death - The Grand Paradise unfolds the map of a human life in front of you and you suddenly see yourself somewhere on this map. By watching and listening to the stories of the resort’s ghosts, you rise above the landscape of your own experiences, reminisce about the past and speculate about the future. 

The closeness of the actors and the other members of the audience make you feel incredibly vulnerable at times. However it doesn’t feel intrusive and you can trust me on it, a person, who fidgets uncomfortably if the actor just glances at me from the proscenium stage. By the end of the evening I wished I could join the dance. Instead, they put me in a coffin and I heard people dancing on the rock above me. Well, sometimes you ask the question but in fact you need to hear something else, as the fortuneteller in the beginning of the performance told me. So I encourage you to come to The Grand Paradise open-minded and prepared to hear and to see something entirely different from what I described here.  

THE GRAND PARADISE runs though September 4, 2016. Beginning June 2, performances are on a new summer schedule: Thursday - Sunday at 7:00pm, with 10:30pm shows on Friday and Saturday. The Grand Paradise is located at 383 Troutman Street at Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn -- just off the L train at Jefferson Street. Tickets are $110 - $135, available Private events are also available; visit the website for more information.